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  • Zafar Khan
    LIBYA After Gaddafi, Libya splits into disparate militia zones The rebel strongholds of Benghazi, Misrata and Zintan have become increasingly independent of
    Message 1 of 1 , Jul 5, 2012
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      After Gaddafi, Libya splits into disparate militia zones
      The rebel strongholds of Benghazi, Misrata and Zintan have become increasingly independent of Tripoli's new regime
      Chris Stephen
      The Observer, Sunday 10 June 2012


      National flags from around the world flutter in the bright sunshine by a city gate made of shipping containers painted in the Libyan national colours. A uniformed militiaman examines my passport, then waves me through with a smile. Welcome to the Republic of Misrata.

      Libya's third largest city, recipient of a six-month pummelling during last year's revolution against the regime of Muammar Gaddafi, has transformed itself into what is an independent state in all but name. Libya is due to hold national elections in 10 days, but these look like they may be delayed as any sense of post-Gaddafi national unity dissipated long ago.

      Misrata is divorced from the new government, which it views as secretive, dictatorial and heavy-handed, and, as a city with a long tradition of trading, is going its own way. Shops and restaurants are being fixed up, business is brisk, and there is enough traffic on the pockmarked streets to create honking traffic jams.

      Qasr Ahmed, Libya's biggest container port, is the jewel in the city's crown. The harbour that once spouted the geysers of incoming rockets is now jammed with shipping, and I get a tour in the only tug in Libya that can do something complicated with its engines that allows it to move sideways. The port authority has decided to run the place without reference to central government, which means that the port is open 24 hours a day, and also means that Misrata gets to keep the tugboat.

      "In the old days there would be 12 forms and it would take 10 days to pay all the bribes," says Nasser Mokhtar, who printed photographs of the shaheed – martyrs – in the war in his print shop and is now back at his clothing import business.

      Now, he explains, there are no bribes; customs officers fear the wrath of the port authority if they try it on.

      Misrata held its own city elections in February, the first anywhere in Libya for four decades, and the new council is now busy organising the police, army, education and health services.

      And that is the problem. The price of this success has been a divorce from a central government. "We don't want to be independent, we want Libya to be like us," says Farouk Ben Amin, a former rebel fighter now working in the family import business, who has shaved off his rebel beard and looks 10 years younger.

      It's not just Misrata. From all points of the compass, revolt, even revolution, is in the air as Libya's former rebel towns go their own way.

      More than 100 miles from Misrata is Zintan, a humble metropolis nestling in the cool foothills of the jagged Jabal Nafusa mountains.

      In the war, Zintan's rebels were one half of the pincer movement – Misrata was the other – that captured Tripoli. Its units poured out of the mountains and into the west of the city, while Misrata's units punched in from the east. Now the mood in both cities is suspicious about the ruling National Transitional Council; not least about what it is doing with the £1bn a month now being earned as oil exports pick up.

      Zintan's uneasiness has seen it change its mind about handing over Libya's top war crimes suspect, Saif al-Gaddafi, son of the late dictator, who continues to languish in a fortified villa on the edge of town. "It is safer to hold his trial here; the government is very weak, they can't control their country," said Attaher Eturki, the ever-smiling city council leader, his crisp English a product of a degree in engineering in Leicester a couple of years ago. "We have good security here."

      To the south, meanwhile, battles between the Tibu, a people who inhabit a large stretch of the Sahara, and Arab tribes have left 200 dead and the towns divided into war zones.

      The most serious challenge to central authority is Benghazi, where the revolution began in February last year. Like Misrata, Benghazi held its own elections earlier this year, and like Misrata the city council is busy assuming powers for itself at the expense of central government.

      Some in the city want to go further. Benghazi is the capital of Cyrenaica, which with the regions of Tripolitania and Fezzan make up Libya, and many citizens are unhappy that the province gets only 60 of the 200 seats in the national elections. A self-proclaimed Council of Barqa – the Arab name for Cyrenaica – is urging a boycott of the national elections unless it gets a bigger slice of seats.

      Benghazi is a good place to feel the continuing heartbeat of the revolution: teams of teenage volunteers collect the rubbish, fix up the streets and paint white lines on the highways. Those white lines zigzag alarmingly, but the citizens appreciate the effort; a vivid contrast to the potholed roads of Tripoli.

      It's not independence but democracy that the people want, says Hanna El Gallal, a human rights activist. "We got rid of Gaddafi, but not the regime," she tells me. She points to the secrecy of the NTC, which, despite promising democracy, keeps its meetings secret and refuses even to disclose its full membership. "We didn't do a revolution and our people did not die to bring a new dictatorship."

      When the NTC does issue decrees, Libyans are aghast; last month it issued law number 37, making it a criminal offence to criticise the "17 February revolution".

      Human Rights Watch pointed out in a scathing report that the law is, word for word, almost the same as Gaddafi's rule banning criticism.

      In London last month, Libyan prime minister Abdurrahim el-Keib insisted that the law would soon be cancelled, but failed to explain why the government had introduced it in the first place.

      "The NTC don't mean to act this way," said an official with a western embassy in Tripoli. "But they don't know any other way."

      The NTC took power in the chaos of last year's revolution in Benghazi, led by Mustafa Abdul Jalil, a career judge, and the only politician in Libya to enjoy widespread support.

      That support comes from the mark he made when he resigned as Gaddafi's justice minister in 2010, making the announcement on live television, an unheard of event in the former dictatorship. But Jalil's star is starting to wane, with Libyans divided about whether he is responsible for the NTC's heavyhandedness, or too weak to stop it.

      And then there is history: Libya is a young country, named as such by its Italian occupiers only in 1934. Before that, Tripolitania, Cyrenaica and Fezzan were separate provinces.

      There is wild talk of a second uprising on the streets of former rebel towns, but the weapon of choice is not the gun but the ballot box. City elections have been rushed through while the central authorities dither with the national election, and the municipalities adopt their own powers. El Gallal explained that, if the elections nationally go well, all will be fine. If not, Benghazi will fall back on its own city administration. "If it (the national election) goes wrong, we don't need the national congress," she said.

      Back in Tripoli, the signs are that the national elections are going very wrong indeed. The NTC insists that the vote will take place, as promised, on 19 June. But staff at the election commission tell me that they have yet to agree the list of candidates. Giving Libya's enthusiastic political parties only a few days to campaign will cause uproar. But so will a delay, stoking fears by the rebels that the NTC plans to hang on to power.

      None of which is good for business: Foreign companies are staying away from Libya, scared off by all the uncertainties. Meanwhile, unemployment remains high, pensions and wages are often unpaid, and rubbish mounts up in vast piles outside the gates of Gaddafi's ruined palace of Bab Azizia.

      And then there are the militias. Nowhere has the government's failure to convince Libyans of its good intentions been more visible than with the security forces. The decision to staff the grandly named National Army with Gaddafi-era generals has, unsurprisingly, seen no recruitment from the former rebels.

      Instead, security is being entrusted to a national gendarmerie, the 60,000-strong Special Security Committee (SSC). The pay is good and rebels and former Gaddafi units have joined en masse, but the force is distrusted by the armies of Misrata and Zintan.

      SSC units last month kidnapped and tortured a prominent health ministry official and, despite pleas from the minister, the government has not called them to account.

      Nor has the SSC dared to move against Islamist units in eastern Libya who have vandalised Commonwealth war graves, launched bomb attacks on a UN convoy and a Red Cross office, and last week bombed the US consulate in Benghazi.

      And it was Tripoli militia units, not the SSC, which took back control of the international airport last week after it was stormed by a militia group from Tarhuna who were upset about the abduction of their commander.

      At Tripoli's luxurious Rixos Hotel, I meet NTC member Musa al-Koni amid rolling lawns and burbling fountains. The fondness of NTC executives for rooms here, at taxpayers' expense, is a staple of the capital's booming media.

      "We made so many mistakes, so many," Koni says. He was once Libya's ambassador to Mali, until the revolution broke out, and in March last year he decided to jump ship after being ordered to recruit mercenaries to come to Gaddafi's aid.

      "Old people are the problem," he says. "Old people stole the revolution in Tunisia, they stole it in Egypt, and they are stealing it here," he says.

      A few days after we met, he announced that he had quit. Two new NTC members had taken his place, he said, though their identities were being kept secret.

      Around the back of the Rixos is a unit of former rebels, the national guard, which is part of the Libyan National Shield, a loose alliance of Libya's militias that bypasses the defence ministry. I hitch a lift with them from positions around Bani Walid, a still restive former Gaddafi town. Arriving at the hotel, an argument starts with men across the road in the sprawling blue-collar Abu Salim neighbourhood.

      Like Bani Walid, Abu Salim spent the war backing Gaddafi, and now they shout at the guard, accusing them of being out-of-town interlopers. As the argument worsens, several guardsmen come forward and shout back that they are from Tripoli, and the revolution is safe. The shouting gets worse. Traffic stops. The guardsmen cock their weapons.

      A tall, bearded, middle-aged guardsman, who worked before the revolution for an oil company in Paris and London, leads me away through the hotel grounds. "I want to leave Libya," he says.


      "These people," he says, gesturing to Abu Salim. "They are poor. Gaddafi had all this oil and he gave them nothing. And still they love him."

      Diplomats in Libya worry about where all this is going: not least because while the NTC has the power – and the oil – it is the former rebel militias who have the guns.

      In the first public in-depth study of Libya's militias, Oxford University researcher Brian McQuinn says that militias in Misrata and Zintan are well organised and disciplined.

      Misrata alone accounts for just under half the total militia units in the country, with slightly more than half of Libya's heavy weapons, including 820 tanks. Both are enthusiastic members of the National Shield, which now has four regional divisions. "Unions of revolutionary brigades from across the country have, in co-ordination, created a national army-in-waiting," he writes.

      Exactly what they are waiting for remains to be seen.

      Much hangs on the elections. If the NTC botches them, or tries to use its proxies to hang on to power, Libya will be in trouble. At best, the former rebel cities will go their own way, creating administrative gridlock for the country and an economic nightmare. At worst, as a rebel militiaman told me last year on the frontline at Ajdabiya, south of Benghazi: "If we don't like the new government, well, now we know how to do revolution."

      Libyan forces recapture Tripoli airport
      Airport back under authorities' control after ex-rebels had occupied runway in response to commander's disappearance.
      Last Modified: 05 Jun 2012 13:12


      Libya jails 24 Russia, Ukraine, Belarus ‘mercenaries’



      Ancient Iranian power sport gets boost
      Gyms with roots that predate Islam and aim to instill physical and spiritual purity are having a resurgence.
      Last Modified: 12 Jun 2012 05:49


      The Iranian zurkhaneh, or "house of strength," is more than an octagonal pit where men exercise, box and wrestle, practicing varzesh-e bastani or "ancient sport".

      It is a communal ritual space where men have come to refine their physical and moral character since pre-Islamic times. Though the zurkhaneh hosted competitions with professional wrestlers, it also served to educate amateur athletes in tenets of Sufi-oriented purity.

      Now, the houses of power are undergoing a resurgence.

      Imran Khan reports from Tehran

      Sanctions hit Iranian farmers hard
      Ancient local traditions like cultivation of roses likely to be jeopardised.
      Last Modified: 09 Jun 2012 08:07




      Indian workers allege abuse in Qatar
      Accusations against Gulf employers prompt Kerala officials to seek overhaul of migrant laws.
      Last Modified: 11 Jun 2012 18:42


      Human Rights Watch is expected to release a scathing report on the treatment of migrant labourers in the Gulf state of Qatar.

      Many migrant workers, mostly from India and other South Asian countries, have made allegations of physical abuse and non-payment of salaries by their Qatari employers.

      The mounting accusations have prompted Indian politicians to seek comprehensive reform of their country's laws to protect migrant workers.

      Al Jazeera's Sohail Rahman reports from the Indian state of Kerala.


      Ali Hasan: The 11-year-old feeling the wrath of Bahrain's regime
      Boy faces trial in 'crackdown on children'. His crime? Playing in the street with friends


      An 11-year-old boy is to stand trial in Bahrain, accused of taking part in an illegal gathering and blocking a road, after spending a month in prison in what human rights organisations say is a campaign against children by the authorities.

      Ali Hasan said he was playing in the street with two other children his own age when he was approached by plainclothes policemen in a car. He said the two other boys ran off, but a policeman shouted that he would shoot Ali with a shotgun if he tried to escape.

      "Ali is accused of taking part in an illegal gathering, which in Bahrain means the gathering of more than five people," his lawyer, Shahzalan Khamees, said. He is also accused of blocking a road with a garbage skip, but this would have been impossible because the skip "is so heavy that you would need two grown men to lift it", she said. Human rights violations and the absence of any real reforms by the Sunni al-Khalifa monarchy in Bahrain, which bloodily crushed the pro-democracy protests by the Shia majority on the island last year, is embarrassing the US and UK governments; their tolerance for repression in Bahrain, a former British possession that is the base for the US Fifth Fleet, makes their concern for human rights in Syria and Libya look hypocritical and self-serving.

      Ali, who was freed yesterday pending his trial later this month, was detained on 14 May near his home in al-Bilad al-Qadeem, a suburb of the Bahraini capital, Manama. Ms Khamees said that upon being arrested he was moved around for four hours between different police stations to frighten and disorientate him. She said he was then interrogated by the police and "asked to give the names of boys in the area where he lived". This was presumably an attempt by the authorities to identify teenagers taking part in the protests that erupt frequently in Shia districts in Bahrain.

      "He is very sad all the time," Ms Khamees said. "All he says is 'I want to go home. I want my mother'. He is frightened and says they are going to punish him. He is only a child."

      The Bahraini authorities did not respond yesterday to queries about the case from The Independent. But earlier the government information office in Manama issued a statement saying "the juvenile is receiving social care and tutoring at the centre. He completed his last exam of the sixth-grade level on Thursday". The government claims that Ali is 12 rather than an 11-year-old. The office said Ali is accused of burning tyres at a roadblock, but his lawyer said the police claim he blocked the road with a large container in which people place rubbish for collection.

      The Bahrain Centre for Human Rights, whose president Nabeel Rajab was arrested again last week for tweeting critical comments about the government, said it is concerned about the targeting of children. It said 60 children are detained and three of them have received sentences of 15 years' imprisonment.

      Mr Rajab is accused of tweeting six comments calling for Bahrain's Prime Minister of the past 40 years, Sheikh Khalifa bin Salman al Khalifa, to step down and alleging corruption.

      Ms Khamees said she has handled cases where seven- and eight-year-olds have been questioned by the police, but they have never been detained. She said it is common for the authorities to detain 14- and 15-year-olds. Ali al-Aswad, a former MP with the opposition al-Wifaq party, said it is common for Bahraini children to attend protests with their families.


      Bombs in Baghdad as political crisis deepens
      At least a dozen people killed in attacks in Iraqi capital, on same day that PM Maliki threatens to call early election.
      Last Modified: 27 Jun 2012 18:53


      At least twelve people have been killed in bombings across the Iraqi capital, one of which targeted a tribal sheikh in southern Baghdad.

      Gunmen planted three bombs in the house of Hatim al-Mansouri, the leader of a pro-government Awakening militia in Mada'in, a neighbourhood which was long a stronghold for Al Qaeda in Iraq.

      Mansouri was not injured, but his wife, daughter and son were all killed in the blast, according to police sources.

      In the Ghazaliya district in western Baghdad, meanwhile, a roadside bomb killed three children from the same family and wounded three others, police said.

      More than 180 people have been killed in June across Iraq in bombings targeting mainly Shia pilgrims and shrines, as political and sectarian tensions run high.

      Iraq's Shia, Sunni and Kurdish factions have been locked in political disputes since US troops withdrew in December.

      Opponents of Shia prime minister Nouri al-Maliki have accused him of trying to consolidate power at their expense.

      Call for early elections

      Underscoring the political dispute, Maliki warned on Wednesday that he would call for early elections unless other political parties agree to negotiate to end a crisis over power-sharing.

      Maliki later clarified his threat, telling reporters that he was merely presenting early elections as an option.

      "In fact, sometimes media misunderstand the issue," he said after a meeting of his National Alliance bloc. "I did not call for early elections because this requires consultation within the National Alliance and with some partners. I rather said, if problems are not solved on the basis of dialogue, openness, and implementing the constitution... nothing would be left but to go for early elections."

      Iraq's next parliamentary election is not scheduled until 2014, but the current coalition government has been mired in political infighting since it was formed 18 months ago, after an inconclusive 2010 vote.

      According to Iraq's constitution, the prime minister can petition the president's office to dissolve the parliament and trigger early elections within 60 days.

      Iraqi authorities order closure of 44 news organisations
      Press freedom group condemns move as a warning to critics of the prime minister
      Associated Press
      guardian.co.uk, Sunday 24 June 2012 16.51 BST


      Bomb Attacks Around Iraq Target Shiites, Killing Dozens
      Published: June 13, 2012


      BAGHDAD — In the deadliest day in Iraq since the withdrawal of the United States military in December, a series of explosions that mostly targeted Shiite Muslims amounted to an emphatic demonstration of the still-potent capabilities of the Sunni insurgency and a reminder of the instability left behind by American forces.

      Shortly after midnight Wednesday, a homemade bomb exploded here in the capital, a harbinger of mayhem. Around 5 a.m., a truck bomb exploded in Kadhimiya, a Baghdad neighborhood where Shiite pilgrims had begun to gather to commemorate the life and death of a revered imam who was the Prophet Muhammad’s great-grandson. Then, reports of other attacks flooded in from around the country — Samarra, Kirkuk, Mosul, Falluja, Ramadi, Hilla — and by midday officials said more than 90 people were dead and at least 260 were wounded.

      The attacks were a reality check for a country that has made substantial steps toward a sense of normalcy. A front-page newspaper article here on Wednesday heralded the return of women to local cinemas. Lately, new red double-decker buses have begun operating in Baghdad, and checkpoints and blast walls have been dismantled, providing some relief to the city’s notorious traffic delays. But after the first attacks struck Wednesday morning, security forces closed off roads, lending a sense of siege to the capital that will continue over the next several days leading up to the culmination of the Shiite religious festival on Saturday. In the afternoon, the government declared that Thursday would be a day off so that the army and the police could secure the city.

      Helicopters buzzed over Baghdad, and in hospitals, familiar and bloody scenes of grief unfolded. Among the victims in Kadhimiya were people, some of them Sunnis, who had set up tents to serve water and food to the pilgrims.

      “The explosion was large enough to tell us that the target is all Iraqis, not just Shiites, because I had two Sunni friends helping me,” said Ali al-Baydhani, 39, who had a food stand.

      An official from the Ministry of Interior said five parked cars detonated across Baghdad, aimed at Shiite pilgrims celebrating the eighth-century martyrdom of the holy man, Imam Musa Kadhim. The pilgrimage reaches its peak on Saturday.

      In Baghdad alone, at least 29 people were killed and about 80 were hurt.

      In Hilla, a predominantly Shiite city south of Baghdad, two car bombs left at least 20 people dead and nearly 40 hurt. One attack struck a restaurant near the local police academy; many of those killed were recruits eating breakfast, a local official said. Also, Shiite mosques in the Hilla area were damaged by homemade bombs, although there were no casualties in those explosions. And in a village east of Karbala, a bomb struck a group of day laborers as they gathered for work.

      Haider Ali, 32, a merchant in Hilla, was shopping nearby when the restaurant was attacked. He ran outside, he said, and “saw smoke and smelled burnt flesh.” He continued: “I saw an old man who used to bring breakfast to his family every morning. He had lost one of his legs and had serious wounds on the other. I think he died while being transferred to the hospital.”

      The attacks came amid a political crisis that erupted in December and has continued unabated for months. It began when an arrest warrant was issued for the Sunni vice president, Tariq al-Hashimi, on terrorism charges; the move worsened a sense of disenfranchisement among Iraq’s Sunni minority. Lately, Sunni and Kurdish lawmakers have been seeking to force the Shiite prime minister, Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, from office through a vote of no confidence in the Parliament.

      Most analysts and diplomats say Mr. Maliki’s opponents are too divided to be likely to succeed in the effort, but the crisis has paralyzed the government and raised fears that insurgents will continue to use the political situation as an impetus for more attacks.

      At the same time, two recent polls show that Mr. Maliki has weathered the crisis well, with his popularity rising among his Shiite base and even among some Sunni tribes. The polls reflect a sense of disillusionment about Mr. Maliki’s rivals over the perception that they are divided and obstructionist, even as fears persist that the prime minister is becoming too powerful.

      “Today is a disaster,” said Iskander Witwit, a member of Parliament’s security committee. “And it’s all because of the political problems between the parties that are reflected in the streets.”

      On Wednesday, Mr. Maliki led a meeting of his top commanders and warned in a statement that the political crisis engulfing his government might encourage insurgents to unleash attacks.

      Numerous other smaller attacks were reported across the country Wednesday morning. In Kirkuk, four car bombs exploded, two near Kurdish political offices. In Balad, north of Baghdad, two car bombs detonated, killing 5 and wounding 30, according to a security official. In Diyala Province, gunfire and homemade bombs killed five.

      Zaid Thaker, Duraid Adnan and Yasir Ghazi contributed reporting. Employees of The New York Times contributed reporting from Baghdad, Hilla, Mosul, Kirkuk, Samarra, Falluja and Ramadi.

      Scores killed in Iraq attacks
      At least 93 people killed across the country, many of them Shia pilgrims gathered in Baghdad for a religious event.
      Last Modified: 13 Jun 2012 19:37



      Tunisia's Ben Ali receives further jail term
      Toppled president is charged in absentia on various charges including incitement to murder.
      Last Modified: 13 Jun 2012 22:57


      A military court in Tunisia has sentenced toppled president Zine el Abidine Ben Ali to 20 years imprisonment in absentia on various charges including incitement to murder.

      Ben Ali, who is exiled in Saudi Arabia, was found guilty of "inciting disorder, murder and looting," the court said on Wednesday in its verdict over the deaths of four youths, shot dead in the town of Ouardanine in mid-January 2011.

      Four protesters were shot dead in the eastern coastal town as they tried to prevent the flight of Ben Ali's nephew Kais, a day after Ben Ali flew out of the country on January 14.

      The victims' relatives have accused the security apparatus of ordering police to open fire on the crowd.

      The court also imposed prison sentences of five to 10 years, some in absentia, on several members of the security forces over the same incident.

      Death penalty sought

      Ben Ali faces countless trials and has already been sentenced to more than 66 years in prison on a range of other charges including drug trafficking and embezzlement.

      He and his wife are the subject of an international arrest warrant, but Saudi authorities have not responded to Tunisian extradition requests.

      A military prosecutor is also seeking the death penalty against the former president over a similar incident which saw at least 22 people killed in pro-democracy protests in the towns of Thala and Kasserine.

      The weeks of protests that started in December 2010 toppled one of the most tightly controlled regimes in the Arab world and led to democratic elections in October that saw a moderate Muslim party rise to power.

      It also set off a wave of protests which became known as the Arab Spring and is still sweeping the region.


      Kuwait polls declared illegal
      Wednesday 20 June 2012


      KUWAIT CITY: Kuwait’s constitutional court yesterday declared February’s legislative polls in which the opposition swept to victory illegal and reinstated the previous pro-government Parliament.
      Leading opposition MP Mussallam Al-Barrak described the verdict as “a coup against the constitution” and called for the opposition to take a united stand.
      “The court nullifies the election that was held on Feb. 2, 2012 ... and cancels the membership of MPs who were declared winners,” said the court verdict, a copy of which was obtained by AFP.
      The court based its decision on the grounds that two decrees “dissolving the previous parliament and calling for a fresh election were illegal,” the verdict said.
      The ruling also stipulated that “the previous Parliament regains its constitutional powers as if it had not been dissolved.” Rulings by the Gulf state’s highest court are final and cannot be challenged.
      At least 16 opposition MPs who were members in the previous Parliament announced their resignation from the house, saying in a statement they refused “to sit in a Parliament rejected by the people.”
      At least 13 MPs in the previous Parliament were questioned last year by the public prosecutor on charges that they received about $350 million of illegal deposits that opposition MPs charged were political bribes.
      The government, which issued no reaction to the ruling, went into an emergency meeting to review the consequences.
      Lawyer Yacoub Al-Sane, who had filed one of several lawsuits on behalf of Ali Al-Rashed, a pro-government member of the previous Parliament, said the ruling was based on the fact the government which recommended the Parliament’s dissolution was “unconstitutional.”
      Rashed himself welcomed the ruling and congratulated the Kuwaiti people for the ruling.
      In early December, the emir, Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Sabah, issued a decree dissolving Parliament following youth-led street protests demanding reforms and the sacking of Prime Minister Sheikh Nasser Mohammad Al-Ahmad Al-Sabah. Following the resignation of Sheikh Nasser in late November, the emir appointed Sheikh Jaber Mubarak Al-Sabah as new premier, but he “left the previous Cabinet intact, which is illegal,” Sane said.
      A few days later, the emir issued another decree inviting Kuwaitis to elect a new Parliament on Feb. 2.
      Sane said it was the “illegal” Cabinet which recommended to the emir to dissolve the previous Parliament and to call for elections, thus rendering the procedures illegal.
      The unprecedented ruling is expected to plunge the Gulf state into a new political crisis. Kuwait was rocked by a series of political crises since 2006 during which eight cabinets resigned and the parliament was dissolved on four occasions. Political analyst Anwar Al-Rasheed said the ruling will escalate already high political tension in Kuwait unless the emir dissolves the reinstated parliament again and calls for fresh polls.
      “This historical ruling will certainly lead to intensifying the political crisis in the country that has been suffering for a long time,” Rasheed told AFP.
      The Kuwaiti ruler on Monday suspended the opposition-controlled Parliament for one month in a bid to ease political tension after two ministers were forced to quit from the four-month-old Cabinet.


      Mohamed Morsi sworn in as Egypt's president
      Former engineering professor and Muslim Brotherhood member becomes country's first freely elected leader.
      Last Modified: 01 Jul 2012 07:52


      Mohamed Morsi has been sworn in by Egypt's highest court as the country's first freely elected president, succeeding Hosni Mubarak who was toppled 16 months ago.

      He took the oath on Saturday before the Supreme Constitutional Court in their courthouse near the Nile River built to resemble an ancient Egyptian temple.

      Morsi became Egypt's fifth head of state since the overthrow of the monarchy some 60 years ago.

      Morsi has vowed to reclaim presidential powers stripped from his office by the military council that took over after Mubarak's overthrow.

      But by agreeing to take the oath before the court, rather than before parliament as is customary, he is bowing to the military's will in an indication that the contest for power will continue.

      "Today is the birthday of the second republic," said one of the judges in a preamble to the ceremony, which was broadcast live by state television.

      Morsi had wanted the ceremony to take place in parliament, in keeping with the country's interim constitution, but the ruling military dissolved the Islamist-dominated house earlier this month after a court order.

      He pre-empted the court ceremony by swearing himself in at Tahrir Square and warning off generals trying to curb his powers.

      Morsi praised Muslims and Christians alike in front of crowds that packed the birthplace of the revolt that overthrew his predecessor Hosni Mubarak last year.

      In a rousing speech, he promised dignity and social justice and swore to uphold the constitution and "the republican system", reciting the words of an oath which he will now formally take in front of the supreme constitutional court.

      "I will look after the interests of the people and protect the independence of the nation and the safety of its territory," he said and promised to preserve a civil state.

      Morsi, who resigned as chairman of the Freedom and Justice Party, the political arm of the Muslim Brotherhood, promised to end torture and discrimination. He also issued several challenges to the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), Egypt's military rulers.

      He insisted that "no institution will be above the people," critiquing an army which has sought to shield itself from parliamentary oversight. "You are the source of authority," he told the crowd.

      Morsi also vowed to work for the release of civilians arrested by the army since the revolution; more than 12,000 people have been tried by military tribunals since February 2011, according to local human rights groups.

      'I don't fear anyone but God'

      The symbolic oath was a way for Morsi to defuse a lingering political problem. The president traditionally takes the oath of office before parliament, but the legislature was dissolved earlier this month by a high court ruling.

      In response, the ruling SCAF shifted the venue to the court, but Morsi was reluctant to take the oath there, for fear of appearing to support the court's ruling.

      The Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party had the largest share of seats in parliament, and has vowed to fight its dissolution.

      Much of his speech took a populist tone. He spoke for several minutes from behind a lectern, then stepped away to address the crowd more directly.

      At one point, he lifted up his suit jacket to show he was not wearing body armour. "I don't fear my people," he said. "I don't fear anyone but God."

      He also spoke briefly about Egypt's foreign relations, promising to improve relations with neighbours in Africa and the Middle East, and to "keep the peace".

      "We will never give up the rights of Egyptians abroad," he said. "Respecting the will of the people is the basis of our foreign relations."

      The president-elect tried to reassure several groups worried about what a Muslim Brotherhood presidency means for Egypt. He made several mentions of "artists and intellectuals", promising to make Egypt a cultural and artistic leader.

      On the other hand, in a remark sure to worry Western leaders, Morsi also promised to work to free Omar Abdel Rahman, the Egyptian cleric currently serving a life sentence in the United States for planning the 1993 attack on the World Trade Center. His pledge was most likely a sop to the Salafi groups which have made Abdel Rahman's release a prominent issue.

      Not the end of military rule

      Morsi will formally take his oath on Saturday morning, and then travel to Cairo University to deliver an inauguration speech.

      He will take office amidst a great deal of political uncertainty. He swore to uphold the constitution, but Egypt still does not have a permanent constitution, only a series of "constitutional declarations" issued by the ruling generals.

      Shortly before parliament was dissolved, lawmakers appointed a 100-member assembly to draft a new constitution. That panel, too, may be dissolved by court order, though the administrative court hearing the case says it will not issue a ruling until July.

      The generals are keen to portray Saturday's swearing-in ceremony as a formal handover of control to a civilian government. But SCAF will continue to wield a great deal of power, perhaps more than Morsi: The military council will control legislative authority, and the Egyptian budget, until a new parliament is elected later this year.

      It is also unclear how much power Morsi will have over the military or Egypt's sprawling security services, which spent decades oppressing the Muslim Brotherhood.

      From prisoner to president: Islamist Mohamed Morsi wins Egyptian vote
      Crowds in Tahrir Square rejoice after Mohamed Morsi is finally declared victor after a week of uncertainty. Alastair Beach reports from Cairo


      Robert Fisk: Mohamed Morsi is no revolutionary and not much of a nationalist. The army elite has already laid traps for him
      Zaghloul might be missed today, after an election in which the words 'Islam' and 'security' seemed like interchangeable platitudes


      The power of Mohamed Morsi
      President-elect's victory takes struggle between Muslim Brotherhood and powerful military to a new round.
      Gregg Carlstrom and Evan Hill Last Modified: 25 Jun 2012 01:43



      Popular dissent on the rise in Sudan
      Recent austerity measures in Sudan have caused widespread economic hardship, leading to protests across country.
      Last Modified: 02 Jul 2012 09:59


      Recent austerity measures have caused widespread economic hardship in Sudan, which has led to an increasing number of protests.

      President Omar al-Bashir has always had opponents, but he is now facing what some are calling unprecedented popular dissent.

      The National Forces Alliance, a grouping of political factions opposed to the government, are trying to capitalise
      on that.

      The group says that the people of Sudan have overcome their fear of Bashir. After creating a plan for post-Bashir
      Sudan, the alliance wants to push for mass demonstrations and acts of civil disobedience.

      Although voices of dissent are now more common than ever, the opposition still remains weak, not representative of the whole country and more importantly divided.

      Many believe it will not be political groups that overthrow the government, but mass demonstrations and unity.

      Al Jazeera's Zeina Khodr reports from Khartoum, Sudan.

      Rising prices ignite Sudan street protests
      Khartoum witnesses student demonstrations as cash-strapped government announces raft of austerity measures.
      Harriet Martin Last Modified: 24 Jun 2012 10:41


      Khartoum, Sudan - In a small roadside market in Khartoum, Ali is leaning across the piles of neatly folded trousers he is selling, trying to keep the attention of his one potential customer. It is a difficult job, especially once he tells the man the price. The cost of the trousers he is selling has nearly doubled in recent weeks from 20 Sudanese pounds (SDG), or about $4, to 35 SDG, around $7 - and sales have plummeted. "People keep asking for discounts but I am barely making a profit as it is. Things are really bad."

      Ali's frustrations are shared by many in the Sudanese capital, which in recent days has witnessed daily protests against a raft of government austerity measures that have made life more difficult. As a matter of fact, the situation in Sudan has become progressively worse since South Sudan split last year, taking 75 per cent of the oil reserves with it.

      Soaring prices

      The consequences of a sharp drop in oil income are being borne by the likes of Ali. Before the current economic downturn, he would sell around 100 pairs of trousers a day. But now with the cost of his Chinese-made trousers soaring, he is selling 15 at best every day.

      Ali came to Khartoum from the town of Damazin, 460km southeast of Khartoum. He is among the many Sudanese who over the last decade have crossed the desert of this vast country to benefit from the jobs created by Khartoum's once-booming economy. Fed by billions of oil dollars, its roads have been tarmacked and shiny new office towers have shot up while its growth has created millions of consumers dependent on imported cars, glitzy household goods and foreign trousers.

      But that heyday ended suddenly, following the secession of South Sudan last July and Sudan's subsequent loss of oil income. The last year has seen spiralling inflation which now runs at 30 per cent, making the cost of an import-dependent urban life soar.

      This week, in an attempt to address the economic meltdown, the Sudanese government announced dramatic austerity measures. Taxes are going up, government jobs are being cut, and the Sudanese pound is officially being devalued - as economists had long warned would have to happen. And fuel subsidies will gradually be ended.

      This last measure has proved the most unpopular because it will affect the price of nearly everything in the economy, from transport to domestically produced food and other goods.

      For the last few days, students in Khartoum have taken to the streets to protest against these austerity measures. Police have swiftly, and often violently, cracked down on the protests. Many opposition parties also oppose the austerity measures.

      But some in the business community welcome them. "It is a relief, actually," admitted one businessman. "Yes, they will hurt, but now they've taken these difficult decisions, things hopefully might stabilise a bit and we can start planning how we will survive this difficult period."

      Eating less

      The government has acknowledged that it is the poor of Sudan who will suffer most from these measures, but has said it had no choice: the state is bankrupt, it says, and faces a deficit of more than $2bn. It is hoping these measures will save $1.5bn.

      Abdu is a 24-year-old from Darfur who is working as a night guard. Seven years ago, he left his family in a camp for internal refugees, where they still live. Abdu moved to Khartoum to find work to help support his family and to study. "But things are very difficult these days - food is so expensive," he says, adding that he has to earn 34 SDG (about $7) a day just to cover the cost of food and transport. He earns less than half that.

      Even some traditional foods like ful - a bean dish - are partly imported from Egypt, and Abdu is complaining about its rising price. "A portion of ful has gone up from 1.5 SDG (about $0.30) not so long ago to 5 SDG (approximately $1) now," Abdu explains. He says he is eating only simple food these days.

      Kocho, who is now retired, supplements his family's income by working gardening jobs. His wife still has a regular salary, but as a state schoolteacher it only amounts to around 400 SDG a month (about $80). Originally from the Nuba Mountains, Kocho has lived in Khartoum for many years, and has four children, all of whom are in school. Their family's diet has adapted to meet the rising food prices. "We used to have three meals a day; now we are doing well if we have two. We are eating less meat and vegetables because they are so expensive now."

      The government has committed to keeping subsidies on wheat, the vast majority of which is imported. Wheat is the staple of the Khartoum diet. But in South Kordofan where Kocho's relatives live, fighting has prevented people from planting crops this season. So basic food is in scarce supply. The price of a small bag of sorghum, the staple of the region, has risen from 1 SDG ($0.20) to 10 SDG ($2), Kocho says.

      "I am not hopeful things will change anytime soon. My kids are facing a bleak future," says Kocho. Asked how people will survive these troubles, he says: "People are patient, just patient." Then he bows his head and looks down at his hands as he adds: "But inside they are burning. They are not happy at all."

      Names have been changed in this article to protect identities.


      Saudi Arabia to allow women to compete in 2012 Olympics
      Saudi embassy statement reveals country's Olympic commitee will oversee participation of women athletes who can qualify
      Ben Quinn
      guardian.co.uk, Sunday 24 June 2012 20.35 BST


      Saudi Arabia has announced that it is to allow female citizens to take part in the Olympic Games this summer for the first time in the country's history.

      The move comes only months after the International Olympic Committee (IOC) faced calls to ban the country from London 2012 after the Saudi Olympic chief appeared to rule out sending women athletes to the Games.

      However, a statement released by the Saudi embassy to the BBC said that the Saudi Olympic committee will "oversee participation of women athletes who can qualify".

      The decision, backed by the Saudi ruler, King Abdullah, was taken 10 days ago but the announcement was delayed due to the death of the Saudi heir to the throne, Crown Prince Nayef, according to the BBC.

      The Saudi regime, which closed private gyms for women in 2009 and 2010 and severely limits women's ability to undertake physical activity, has been under mounting international pressure to adopt a more liberal approach.

      Tessa Jowell, the former culture secretary and Olympics minister – who is now a member of the Olympic board – said in February that the Saudis were "clearly breaking the spirit of the Olympic charter's pledge to equality" with their attitude to women in sport and the Games.

      Jowell spoke out after a report by Human Rights Watch highlighted the way in which Saudi Arabian women and girls are denied the right to sport.

      An equestrian jumping contestant, Dalma Malhas, 18, is likely to be Saudi Arabia's only female athlete to qualify for this summer's Games in London which get underway on 27 July.

      As recently as February, the Saudi Olympic committee president, Prince Nawaf bin Faisal, said he was "not endorsing" female participation in London as part of the official delegation.

      Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Brunei have all never had a female athlete at the Olympics although Qatar has already announced it will send a three-woman team to London.
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